Part I: Who to vote for
Your ballot for the Primary Election is due August 3rd. 1There is only one race that is significantly contested and that is Position #7 between current Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney, Soleil Lewis and Yoshiko Matsui Grace.
I am not formally endorsing any single candidate. But after having spent considerable time getting to know who they are, what they stand for and what they hope to achieve, I ask you to consider either Soleil Lewis or Yoshiko Grace Matsui. I believe that both well-qualified but also better qualified to help lead the City Of Des Moines than Mr. Mahoney.
Look, I had not intended to endorse anybody. But you know how the media is always screaming, “This is the most important election since…!” Well, this really is that election for Des Moines. The stakes are as high as they will ever be. Next year will contain some of the most consequential events in our history that you probably haven’t heard about yet. Such as:
- Marina Redevelopment — the most expensive capital project in our history
- A major expansion of Sea-Tac Airport
- Highly controversial Affordable Housing legislation affecting the entire City
- The largest infusion of Federal stimulus money any of us are ever likely to see
And that’s just for openers.
Soleil Lewis and Yoshiko are very different candidates and I will refer you to their web sites so they can sell themselves. I’ll just tell you what I see: both have made transparency, public engagement and improving the quality of government in Des Moines their top priorities. And those are what is most needed on on our City Council.
In fact, I think it is unfortunate that they did not choose to run for different seats. Des Moines needs more high quality candidates. However, I think it is telling that both chose to run against Matt Mahoney. And that raises the obvious question: why not re-elect Matt Mahoney?
For me, there are two related answers:
The first is policy. I doorbelled 6,000 homes on literally every street in Des Moines in 2019. Most of you told me you had no knowledge about what your City was doing or even how to participate. You said that you wanted more transparency and more public engagement. But since day one, the Council majority have gone in exactly the opposite direction.
- Our City Manager unilaterally handed out $500,000 in business grants to only 26 selections in a 2deeply flawed process, leaving the vast majority of our businesses unaware and out in the cold. Who are these lucky few? Check the campaign donations.
- Marina Redevelopment is now proceeding–but only with input from the small number of boat owners, 80% of which do not live in Des Moines. There has been no public input from Des Moines residents in four years.
- Sea-Tac Airport is embarking on the largest expansion program since the Third Runway. The Port Of Seattle is now treated as our partner based on a 30 year old myth that the Port provides ‘jobs and economic benefits’ to Des Moines. It. Does. Not. Our former Mayor lobbies for the Port. What the Port really is: the biggest threat our City faces in terms of health, property values and schools.
- The City’s digital presence, including its web site, access to meetings and public outreach are the poorest in the area. It is literally impossible to search for important public documents and access for people with disabilities is beyond frustrating.
And that leads to the second reason: a lack of individual professionalism that is simply unacceptable in a leader of a city with a $100M budget. Mr. Mahoney has engaged in an ongoing campaign of personal insults and unfounded accusations as tactics to prevent minority Councilmembers from doing their job. When any Councilmember has a reasonable disagreement or shows the kind of initiative you should want from your Councilmembers, he does not communicate or compromise; he simply attacks.
Ironically, my second vote on the Council was for Mr. Mahoney to be Deputy Mayor. But it is now the vote I most deeply regret. Before that vote he told me that he recognized that when voters elected Councilmember Martinelli and myself, they had chosen representatives with perspectives that differed from the majority. So he promised to be someone who would help build consensus and find compromise. That would be leadership. But in reality, Mr. Mahoney has behaved like the high school bully of our City Council. And for that reason alone, he does not deserve your vote.
OK, that’s the business part of this. Stop here if all you needed was a recommendation and some links. The remainder is just me gassing on about why I feel so strongly about the need for reform. 🙂
Part II: Marco Polo
When Marco Polo returned home after years in China, the Italians did not believe his stories of ice cream and spaghetti and gun powder because they had not seen it for themselves. Actually, lots of influential people knew about all that stuff. They just didn’t talk about it.
Perhaps the above seems shocking or ‘sour grapes’ if your only images of City Council are from hand shakes and friendly ribbon cuttings.
We have had no newspaper for many years and almost none of you follow local government. For most of you, your only knowledge of City affairs comes four times a year with the City Currents magazine–a promotional newsletter and not objective news coverage. Hell, key portions of our City’s web site–access to your public information–have been broken now for months and no one seems to know the difference. This is not something I brag about, but I’m probably one of maybe four(?) people who have followed Des Moines politics closely for a continuous period of time. And two of them are/were part of the majority I ran to oppose. You have no way of knowing the objective state of your City.
Yes, there’s a bit of social media, but frankly 99% of that is either official announcements or gossip or CMs doing warm fuzzies. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve seen any other CM or candidate give their unvarnished opinion on any policy of consequence.
Now, during this campaign season, there will be some ‘candidate forums’. I just saw one tonight and they can be somewhat helpful. But frankly, almost none of you will know the really important questions to ask. I’m not saying that your question isn’t important. It’s just that you don’t know what you don’t know. And even if you did, you might not be able to tell what’s what. There’s no fact checking and no follow-up. So candidates, and especially incumbents, can skate by with almost any level of pandering.
I know this will sound snarky, but it’s a real problem: often the most gossip-laden people–those who think they’re well-informed, will get some pretty basic things wrong. But hey, if you heard it from ‘your friend’ on the City Council , the rumors spread and that determines what people think is possible and round and round we go year after year.
Actually, gossip doesn’t even need to come from a friend. Deputy Mayor Mahoney himself has developed quite the habit of talking about things that a few key people are working on–telling the public stuff like how ‘A ferry is coming!’ or ‘We’re looking at hiring four more police officers!’ It’s specifically meant to imply that he has some special insider authority which the ceremonial office of Deputy Mayor does not have.
The In Crowd
However, Mr. Mahoney is not wrong to imply that decision making is limited to ‘a few key people’. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature. A culture of insiderism has been festering in Des Moines for many years now. There is now an almost complete lack of transparency which has become so chronic that the few who do follow City affairs consider our situation ‘normal’ or at least inevitable. It is not.
I don’t want to make it sound like there’s some group of evil people lingering in the shadows. More often the problem is that good people don’t speak up. Why should they? If you have any connection with the City, you cannot. And the influencers just assume that because “it’s always been like that” the current system is “as good as it gets.” People like the whole polite small town vibe. So do I. But ironically, this can work against good government. Democracy only works when people really can ‘disagree without being disagreeable’ in public. But at some point, agreeability starts to look an awful lot like a lack of courage.
The only issue…
Frankly, many of us have come to think of fine words like ‘good government’ as somewhat optional. It’s nice to have, but so long as it seems like the City is handling your issue at any given time, many of us don’t care how the sausage is made. Now having seen both sides, both as a concerned citizen before and as your elected now, I can tell you truthfully that this is incorrect.
I’ll be specific: I’ve made such a deal about Matt Mahoney’s ethical lapses because that should be the entire election. Seriously, good professional conduct should be the baseline, right? Right? 😀
But I doubt any member of the public or candidate will even mention it. Instead, they may ask about ‘differences on the issues’ or ‘hope to bring more cooperation’. Everyone runs away from the issue. As a community we’re constantly sending the message that ethical conduct is just not a big deal. It would be like watching a ball game, knowing that one team is allowed to cheat and then wondering why they tend to win. It’s ridiculous.
Residents have asked for decades why Des Moines has not thrived like so many other waterfront communities. That is the real answer.
What I have written may sound abstract, but it’s not so let me put it in one sentence. It is in your personal interest to have a City Council that functions with transparency, professionalism and fairness. Better government tends to lead to better outcomes for you on every issue you care about. Swear to God.
Every big ticket issue I mentioned: Marina Redevelopment, Airport Expansion, Stimulus money, public safety, even the potholes. Everything is negatively impacted by the current lack of transparency and lack of public engagement in decision making. Everything.
One last thing. If you’ve read this far I know what yer thinking: Nope. This letter has got nuthin’ to do with any party politics. In fact, I have always been a true independent and non-partisan–perhaps the last of a dying breed. 😀 During my campaign, I requested no endorsements from anyone. I also did not ask for campaign donations from any business or organization. I have never represented any political agenda other than my own and I will resist any attempt by any candidate or elected to ever put the interests of any organization ahead of the residents of Des Moines. I’m just telling you who I think are the best available choices for Position #7 at this one key moment–because, as I said, this time it really matters.
As always, it is my honor to serve Des Moines.
1Yes, Position #5 is also on the ballot. My advice? Do a write-in. Seriously.
2This is one of the few times I have ever edited an article. The original expression was ‘hand selected’ which offended one local business owner–he thought it created the impression that he was somehow ‘in on it’ which was not at all my intention. My intention was to say that ‘the selection process was poor’, But that sounds far too polite, IMO. Here is some details on that selection process and how tough it has been for me to obtain information about the program. Judge for yourself.